Saturday, June 21, 2008

CLEAN and Re-Seed

Legislators seek to bring back crime-fighting program
By MARGARET GIBBONS , Times Herald Staff
Sat, Jun 21, 2008

(HT to JCS for the photo)

COURTHOUSE — The disbanded CLEAN (Combined Law Enforcement Agency Network) Team, an elite group of law enforcement officers who focused on quality of life crimes in Norristown neighborhoods, may soon be back on the streets.

State Reps. Jay R. Moyer, R-70th Dist., and Mike Vereb, R-150th Dist., Friday announced they have drafted an amendment to the state’s budget to include a $240,000 allocation designed to serve as “re-seed” money to revive the program.

While millions have been and will be spent on the revitalization of Norristown’s downtown business district, “we can’t lose focus on the neighborhoods,” said Vereb.

“The reality is that no matter how attractive we make the downtown area, no matter how many incentives businesses get to relocate here, people are not going to come unless they feel safe walking down the streets,” said Moyer.

The pair said their decision to offer the amendment was prompted by a recent hearing they held on blighted conditions in the county seat. Several witnesses cited the success of the program and asked that it be reinstituted. (click link to read more)

Their comments came during a press conference the two, flanked by members of the law enforcement community, held on the steps of the county courthouse in Norristown.

County Assistant District Attorney Todd Stephens, the last captain of the CLEAN Team, was among those participating in the press conference.

Stephens said new offices, new parking garages and even new sidewalks are coming to Norristown.

“What strikes me is that, without a dedicated group of law enforcement professionals who are focused on the quality of life for those living and working in Norristown, all of that will go by the wayside,” said Stephens.

“You can build nice sidewalks, but if all you have standing on them are drug dealers and prostitutes, they really do you no good,” said Stephens.

The district attorney’s CLEAN Team, introduced with much fanfare in November 1999, went belly-up on June 30, 2006, citing a lack of county funding.

Instead of funding the CLEAN Team, the county commissioners, over the objections of then-district attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr., opted to go in another direction. The commissioners decided to underwrite Norristown’s costs in hiring four new police officers provided that Norristown, using its own funds, matched the hiring of county-paid officers on a one-to-one basis.

The CLEAN Team was the brainchild of both former district attorney Michael D. Marino and Castor. It was designed to help Norristown revitalization efforts by tackling quality of life crimes including littering, graffiti, prostitution, panhandling, outdoor drug sales on street corners and nuisance bars and properties.

The unit initially included more than a dozen county detectives, sheriff deputies, county security officers, Norristown police officers and a county assistant district attorney. However, citing budget and personnel constraints of their own, Norristown and the sheriff had withdrawn all officers by the time the unit was disbanded.

When Castor announced that the unit was being disbanded in 2006 for lack of funding, he called it “the most effective crime-fighting program we have.”

In addition to making residents and visitors feel safer, Castor said, the unit developed its own intelligence network that proved invaluable in fighting crime in Norristown.

“Ultimately what we want to do here in Norristown is make it a place where people feel safe, where they feel safe coming to visit, coming to work and living,” said District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman.

Ferman said if the seed money for the program is secured, she will do what she can to obtain additional funding from the county and other sources to keep the program operating.

The $240,000 would not be a one-time grant, said Vereb. Instead, it would be a line item in the budget each year unless someone takes action to remove it.

Vereb said he hopes the allocation will serve as a springboard to launch discussions of the state funding similar programs elsewhere in the state and county.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

This is a step in the right direction. Although, I've been hearing about Norristown's "revitalization" for so long, I'm more than a little cynical as to whether it can actually be pulled off or not. I'm encouraged that someone is looking beyond basic infrastructure such as parking gargages and turnpike exits and addressing what seems to me to be the real hindrance to Norrstown's success.

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